What is coffee creamer and is it different than cream?

Look, everybody likes a little splash now and then. No matter how “serious” a coffee drinker you consider yourself to be, there’s a time and a place for milk or creamโ€”maybe every time, if that’s how you like it!โ€”and for many, there’s also a time and a place for creamer.

But would you believe coffee creamer does not contain cream? Another of life’s great riddles, coffee creamer is actually a stand-in for cream, with a sweeter flavor profile that many consider delightful, even international. It’s also, in many cases, dairy free.

So what are we really looking at here with creamer?

Often found in the refrigerated aisle (though not always), coffee creamer is typically a sweetened, hyped-up version of putting milk in your coffee. Coffee creamer can include anything from big plastic bottles of CoffeeMate to the little tiny cups you’re always fidgeting with at the diner. Non-dairy creamer is a popular choice for those who eschew cow’s milk, prefer products with a longer shelf life, or who have not yet discovered the spectrum of oat, nut, and seed milks unleashed on global marketplaces in the past decade.

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What are the differences between milk, half and half, cream, and “coffee creamer”?

For those who prefer a simpler coffee drink but don’t take it black, milk and half-and-half are traditional add-ins for filter or drip coffee. Typically, whole milk contains around 3.25-4% milkfat, whereas half and half contains around 10%.

If you like it rich, heavy cream/whipping cream is thicker and fattier, weighing in upwards of 35% milkfat, with the adorably-but-confusingly named “table cream” coming in around 18%. (There are federal standards for these definitions in the US, but depending on your brand and locale, your mileage may vary.) A benefit of using half and half or milk or even heavy cream in coffee is that there are typically no added ingredients, though you will sometimes find thickening agents like gellan gum in heavy cream (even the organic brands). There’s much to be said for a one-ingredient food, which unfortunately coffee creamer cannot claim to be.

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Besides flavorings, your average coffee creamer contains a great deal of bonus ingredients on top of (possibly) milk. These include everything from thickening agents like carageenan and cellulose to controversial fats like palm oil, and let’s not forget plenty of added sugars. But like all processed foods, coffee creamer can be an okay thing to enjoy in moderation if it’s a favorite treat for you. What’s important is to know your ingredients and be aware of what you’re consuming, and that it’s something much more complicated than everyday milk.

What are some totally amazing and shocking flavors of coffee creamer?

Thanks for asking! Though coffee creamer has long come in classic flavors such as French Vanilla, Amaretto, and Hazelnut, some contemporary amazing and shocking flavors include Golden Grahams, Twinkies, Drumstick cone, M&M’s, Oatmeal & Crรจme, Rice Krispies Treats, Cinnamon Roll, Willie Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudgy Caramel, and of course Pumpkin Spice.

What about Whitener? What is that?

Whitener is sometimes used as a name for liquid creamer, but some may know it as a powdered version of creamer that typically comes in a canister or single-serving sachet.

Whitener is, like liquid non-dairy creamers, full of lots of interesting things that are not particularly necessary to a human’s diet. However, if you truly can’t stand your coffee black and have no access to refrigeration, they may be the choice for you!

Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read moreย Liz Clayton on Sprudge.ย